AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Keeper of the Flame
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
Release Date:   1942
Premiere Information:   release: Dec 1942--Feb 1943
Production Date:   14 Jul--21 Sep 1942; addl scenes mid-Oct 1942
Duration (in mins):   100
Duration (in feet):   9,033
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Spencer Tracy (Steven O'Malley)  
    Katharine Hepburn (Christine Forrest)  
    Richard Whorf (Clive Kerndon)  
    Margaret Wycherly (Mrs. Forrest)  
    Forrest Tucker (Geoffrey Midford)  
    Frank Craven (Dr. Fielding)  
    Horace McNally (Freddie Ridges)  
    Percy Kilbride (Orion Peabody)  
    Audrey Christie (Jane Harding)  
    Darryl Hickman (Jeb Rickards)  
    Donald Meek (Mr. Arbuthnot)  
    Howard da Silva (Jason Rickards)  
    William Newell (Piggot)  
    Mary McLeod (Janet)  
    Clifford Brooke (William)  
    Rex Evans (John)  
    Blanche Yurka (Anna)  
    Craufurd Kent (Ambassador)  
    Mickey Martin (Messenger boy)  
    Manart Kippen (Reporter)  
    Don Gallaher (Reporter)  
    Cliff Danielson (Reporter)  
    Jay Ward (Pete)  
    Rita Quigley (Susan)  
    Dick Elliott (Auctioneer)  
    Edward McWade (Lawyer)  
    Irvin Lee (Boy reporter)  
    Diana Dill (Girl)  
    Gloria Tucker (Girl)  
    Dr. Charles Frederick Lindsley (Minister's voice)  
    Robert Pittard (Tim)  
    Louis Mason (Gardener)  
    Sam Harris    
    Art Howard    
    Harold Miller    

Summary: When venerated World War I hero Robert Forrest dies in an automobile accident, the nation mourns his loss and the press congregates outside the gates of his estate in pursuit of a story. Just returned from Berlin, esteemed war correspondent Steven O'Malley joins his peers Freddie Ridges and Jane Harding, but remains aloof from the pack. As Freddie questions the police report of Forrest's death, Steven maintains that he wants to write the story of Forrest's life as an inspiration for the "dark days ahead." To placate the journalists, Forrest's private secretary, Clive Kerndon, holds a press conference. Determined to win an interview with Forrest's widow Christine, Steven takes a taxi to the estate but is turned away by the gatekeeper, Jason Rickards, an embittered man who cryptically states that he was Forrest's top sergeant until a war wound relegated him to gatekeeper. As Steven walks away, he notices a sobbing little boy, Jason's son Jeb, who blames himself for his idol Forrest's death because he failed to warn him about the precarious state of the bridge that collapsed under the weight of Forrest's car, sending him crashing to his death in the river below. After Steven consoles Jeb and explains his mission, the boy agrees to lead him along a secret path to the Forrest house. There, Steven watches as Christine reverently arranges a bouquet of flowers in front of her late husband's portrait. After Christine refuses to help Steven write his "memorial to her late husband's memory," Kerndon privately rebukes her and warns her to cooperate lest Steven become suspicious of her behavior. As Steven drives back to the hotel, his talkative cab driver, Orion Peabody, gossips about the animosity that existed between Forrest and Christine's cousin, Geoffrey Midford. Soon after Steven retires to his room, Christine appears at the hotel and offers to help him write her husband's story, and they arrange to meet the following day at her house. From his hotel room window, Steven watches as Christine drives away with Geoffrey. On the taxi ride to the Forrest estate the next day, Orion chats away about Christine paying the overdue mortgage on Geoffrey's farm. Distracted, Orion runs into Dr. Fielding's car and Steven learns that the doctor has come to the gatehouse to treat Jeb, who has fallen ill with a fever. As the ailing boy tells Steve about his sister Janet, who worked as Forrest's secretary until she abruptly went away, Jason enters the room and interrupts their conversation. Picking up the gatehouse phone, Steven calls the big house but is instead connected to Forrest's elderly mother. When Jason forbids Steven to use the phone, Steven begins to suspect that he is hiding something. Upon returning to his hotel, Steven finds a group of children from Forward America, the youth group founded by Forrest, waiting there with a deep sense of loss because Christine has refused to see them. The next day, Steven returns to the Forrest house and is surprised that Christine has left on a mysterious trip with Geoffrey. When Steven questions Kerndon about Forrest's mother, Kerndon discourages him from approaching her. Later, Steven asks the doctor about Jeb's sister and he replies that the girl was sent to a sanitarium after suffering a nervous breakdown. After returning from her trip, Christine visits Jeb at the gatehouse and Steven finds her there. On the drive back to the big house, Steven asks Christine about a windowless stone building on the property and she responds that is the arsenal, the place that her husband went to collect his thoughts. As Steven studies Forrest's papers at the house, Kerndon berates Christine for failing to give him the keys to the arsenal in her absence. Afterward, Christine runs out to the stone building, piles papers from her husband's desk into the fireplace and sets them on fire. Questioned by Steven about the stone building, Kerndon lies that it is a storehouse. When Steven leaves the house for a stroll, the panicky Kerndon calls New York to reassure his superior that he will "take care" of the arsenal. After meeting Christine at the door to the arsenal, Steven proceeds with her to the stable, where her horse is being treated for an leg injury he suffered on the day of Forrest's accident. Steven is skeptical when Christine explains that her horse's mishap prevented her from riding to the bridge and discovering that it had collapsed. As the two mount up for a ride, Steven confides that he thinks the bridge was sabotaged and implores Christine to trust him. They then ride to Forrest's mother's house where the demented woman raves on about her son's murder and accuses Christine of deliberately failing to warn Forrest about the condition of the bridge. Frustrated, Steven announces that he is abandoning the story and rides back to the house alone. Along the trail, he spots Freddie sketching the broken bridge and finds a discarded horse shoe near the river bank. When Steve discovers that the shoe matches Christine's injured horse's hoof, he realizes that she must have ridden to the bridge. That night, as Kerndon demands that Christine hand over the keys to the arsenal's filing cabinet, Steven knocks at the door, shows her the horse shoe and charges her with her husband's death. After accusing her of complicity with Geoffrey, Steven departs and Christine hurries to destroy the evidence locked within the arsenal. As Steven prepares to leave the estate, he encounters Geoffrey, who introduces him to Janet and announces their engagement. Jason then explains that Geoffrey and Janet had been childhood sweethearts. Janet, suffering from hero worship of Forrest, suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized by Christine and Geoffrey, who had spent the last few days visiting her and arranging for her discharge. Realizing that he has wrongly accused Christine, Steven proceeds to the arsenal, declares his love to Christine and offers his support. Despondent, Christine recounts that the masses' worship of her husband transformed him into an arrogant, power hungry monster intent on smashing democracy. Unlocking the filing cabinet, Christine displays papers documenting Forrest's diabolical scheme to turn Americans against one another, thus weakening the country and enabling the institution of a fascistic form of government. Aware that Forrest was on his way to meet his fellow saboteurs, Christine decided not to warn him that the bridge was out, thus insuring his death. After Christine agrees to help Steven tell her husband's true story, Steven notices smoke pouring into the building and realizes that Kerndon has started a fire. Kerndon then shoots Christine, who dies in Steven's arms, begging him to expose Forrest. After locking Steven inside the burning building, Kerndon runs onto the road and fires at on oncoming car carrying Freddie and Jane. After their vehicle collides with Kerndon, Freddie and Jane rush to the arsenal, break down the door and rescue Steven, who then writes an expose about Forrest and a loving tribute to Christine. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
  Edward Woehler (Asst dir)
Producer: Victor Saville (Prod)
  Leon Gordon (Assoc prod)
Writer: Donald Ogden Stewart (Scr)
Photography: William Daniels (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Lyle Wheeler (Assoc)
  Edward Carfagno (Art dir)
Film Editor: James E. Newcom (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Jack Moore (Assoc)
Costumes: Adrian (Miss Hepburn's gowns)
Music: Bronislau Kaper (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (Spec eff)
Production Misc: Bill Ryan (Unit mgr)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel Keeper of the Flame by I. A. R. Wylie (New York, 1942).
Authors: I. A. R. Wylie

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 15/12/1942 dd/mm/yyyy LP11803 Yes

PCA NO: 8871
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Drama
Subjects (Major): Accidental death
  Foreign correspondents
  Hero worship
  War heroes
Subjects (Minor): Automobile accidents
  Fascists and fascism
  Fathers and sons
  Mental illness
  Mothers and sons
  Press conferences
  Taxicab drivers

Note: According to a Dec 1941 HR news item, M-G-M bought the rights to the I. A. R. Wylie novel from RKO for $50,000. RKO had bought the property when it was an "embryonic idea," but later decided that it would need too many changes to film and presented too many casting difficulties due to the lack of suitable stars at RKO. Although HR news items add Dorothy Morris, Jay Yard and Barry Bernard to the cast and state that Glenn Anders was testing for a role, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A 22 Jul 1942 news item notes that Pauline Lord was in the cast, but in a modern interview, director George Cukor stated that Lord was originally cast as "Mrs. Forrest." According to Cukor, the scene with Lord was shot, but didnt work, and so she was replaced by Margaret Wycherly. This picture marked the screen debut of Audrey Christie and Mary McLeon. According to a Jun 1942 HR news item, Hepburn suggested that Christie be tested for the role of "Jane Harding." Previous to her appearance in this film, McLeod was an unknown Canadian school teacher, according to a Dec 1942 HR news item.
       Keeper of the Flame was the last picture made by costume designer Adrian before leaving M-G-M. He had been head of the costume departmart for many years and was credited as being largely responsible for the M-G-M "look" popular throughout the 1930s. Adrian worked at various other studios throughout the 1940s and opened his own fashion house. He returned to M-G-M as costume designed for Lovely to Look At (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1951-60 ).
       According to an Oct 1943 NYT news item, several Republican legislators complained to the Production Code Administration that this picture was propagandistic. In a modern interview, Cukor stated that the picture was made "during a period of undercover Fascism in the country. Certain things were in the air but hadnt come out into the open I suppose, to draw attention to them, we exaggerated." The NYT review commented that this film "touches frankly upon a phase of American life that is most serious and pertinent today."  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   19-Dec-42   
Daily Variety   16 Dec 42   p. 3, 8
Film Daily   12 Dec 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Dec 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jun 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jul 42   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Jul 42   pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jul 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 42   pp. 8-11.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Aug 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Sep 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Oct 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Oct 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Dec 42   p. 9.
Motion Picture Herald   19 Dec 1942.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   19 Dec 42   p. 1065.
New York Times   19 Mar 43   p. 15.
New York Times   10 Oct 1943.   
Variety   16 Dec 42   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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